Where’s the evidence? Obstacles to impact-gathering and how researchers might be better supported in future

Clare Wilkinson at the LSE Impact Blog: “…In a recent case study I explore how researchers from a broad range of research areas think about evidencing impact, what obstacles to impact-gathering might stand in their way, and how they might be further supported in future.

Unsurprisingly the research found myriad potential barriers to gathering research impact, such as uncertainty over how impact is defined, captured, judged, and weighted, or the challenges for researchers in tracing impact back to a specific time-period or individual piece of research. Many of these constraints have been recognised in previous research in this area – or were anticipated when impact was first discussed – but talking to researchers in 2015 about their impact experiences of the REF 2014 data-gathering period revealed a number of lingering concerns.

A further hazard identified by the case study is the inequalities in knowledge around research impact and how this knowledge often exists in siloes. Those researchers most likely to have obvious impact-generating activities were developing quite detailed and extensive experience of impact-capturing; while other researchers (including those at early-career stages) were less clear on the impact agenda’s relevance to them or even whether their research had featured in an impact case study. Encouragingly some researchers did seem to increase in confidence once having experience of authoring an impact case study, but sharing skills and confidence with the “next generation” of researchers likely to have impact remains a possible issue for those supporting impact evidence-gathering.

So, how can researchers, across the board, be supported to effectively evidence their impact? Most popular amongst the options given to the 70 or so researchers that participated in this case study were: 1) approaches that offered them more time or funding to gather evidence; 2) opportunities to see best-practice examples; 3) opportunities to learn more about what “impact” means; and 4) the sharing of information on the types of evidence that could be collected….(More)”.